Oh my goodness! Try these soft shells

Published 12:03 am Saturday, May 23, 2015

I will order a soft-shell crab every time I see it on a menu. At Galatoire’s in New Orleans they come out huge, crispy, and melt- in-your-mouth delicious. They give you two on a plate even though one is really enough, but I seem to eat both of them.

Soft-shell crabs aren’t a unique species of crab, but rather blue crabs that have shed their shells when they’ve outgrown them. Until their soft new shells harden, the crabs are almost completely edible—shell and all. They come into season along the East Coast when the water temperature rises to about 50°F, which usually happens in April or May, The farther down the coast you travel, the longer the season lasts, ending along the Gulf Coast as late as October in some years.

It is best to buy live crabs since that will insure they are fresh, healthy, and tasty. But some of us cannot get our hands on fresh ones (I recently tried on the East Coast and the Gulf!), but you can find them frozen and if you cannot use your live ones within a day, you should clean them and wrap them individually in plastic. They will freeze and be fine for up to three months.

Why do people love soft-shell crabs? Blue crabs are a pain to eat, thanks to the vigorous digging getting the meat out of the shells. I don’t have the patience for it. But with soft-shell crabs, you get to enjoy the sweet, fresh crab with no muss or fuss because you can eat the whole thing.

While most people enjoy soft-shell crabs sautéed or deep-fried, there are other ways to cook them. They can be grilled and wrapped in warm tortillas to make tacos. In the recipe below the soft-shell crab is cooked slow to be used in spaghetti. The slow cooking enables the crabs to release their delicious juices, creating a briny-sweet sauce for the cooked pasta.

Perhaps the name says it all. The Atlantic blue crab’s scientific name is Callinectes sapidus. Callinectes means “beautiful swimmer,” and sapidus means tasty or savory.

From ‘Fine Cooking Magazine’ June/July 2015 Issue.

Soft-Shell Crab Spaghetti with Spinach and Peas

Serves 4

Kosher salt

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more for serving

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

3 medium cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

4 jumbo soft-shell crabs

12 oz. dried spaghetti

4 oz. (about 4 cups) baby spinach

½ cups shelled fresh or thawed fresh peas

2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbs. thinly sliced chives

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat the oil, butter, garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt in a deep 12-inch skillet over low heat, stirring once or twice, until the garlic begins to gently sizzle, about 3 minutes. Cook occasionally, until the garlic is soft (you don’t want it to color), 3-4 minutes.

Add the crabs belly side down, cover, and slowly cook, shaking the pan occasionally so the crabs don’t stick, until they are red and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads about 145°F, about 10 minutes.

When the crabs go into the skillet, begin cooking the spaghetti until just shy of al dente. During the last minute of cooking, add the spinach and peas to the pasta water to heat through and wilt. Reserve ¾ cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and vegetables.

When the crabs are done, turn the heat off, hold each crab above the skillet with tongs and cut it into bite-size pieces with poultry shears, letting the pieces fall back into the skillet.

Add the pasta and vegetables to the skillet along with the parsley, and gently toss over medium heat until the spaghetti is al dente and well coated with the sauce. Add some of the reserved water if it looks dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with the chives.


Simply Sautéed Soft-Shell Crabs

Serves 2-4

3 Tbs. all-purpose flour

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 jumbo soft-shell crabs

2 Tbs. canola oil or vegetable oil

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

Lemon wedges (optional)

In a wide, shallow bowl, combine the flour with ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Dredge the crabs to coat on both sides.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the butter and swirl the skillet to melt it. Add the crabs top side down and cook, shaking the pan once or twice to keep the crabs from sticking, until browned, about 3 minutes. The crabs may pop and splatter, so stand back or use a spatter guard. With tongs, flip the crabs and cook until red and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads about 145°F, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer the crabs to a large paper towel lined plate to drain briefly, then serve with the lemon wedges.